Algerian culture, as far as I’ve seen, is incredibly underrepresented in western literature and not represented at all in children’s books. I love that this author, who felt the same- did something about it. This 40 page colorful story incorporates Algerian traditions and culture with universal themes of sibling love, wedding excitement, and being sad about change. The OWN voice warmth shows Muslim characters in America holding to traditions and making new ones. The book is long, but is not text heavy. For toddlers and preschoolers up to second grade, I can see readers enjoying the detailed descriptions of the dresses and foods, and feeling the feelings of little Mona as her beloved older sister prepares for her wedding and ultimately leaving with her husband.
The book starts on the morning of the big day, Layla’s engagement. Mama explains to Mona that the Imam will do the kitab and that her older sister is excited because she has known Ahmed since school and likes him a lot. Once dressed Mona watches Layla get ready in traditional Algerian clothes.
When Ahmed and his family arrive, he and Layla announce that after the wedding they will be moving from New York to Arizona. Mona is devastated, as the women start to zaghreet in celebration. She wonders if she can go with them, but decides she can’t leave her parents. Later that night, Layla and Mona chat and decide that Mona will help plan for the wedding and they will make a scrapbook.
Over the next few months, clothes are bought, cakes are tasted, flowers are decided upon, and Arayech is made. The night of the henna is fun, but then it is the wedding, and then time for Layla and Ahmed to go. Happy tears and promises to always be connected conclude the story before a scrapbook page for the readers is revealed to make their own designs. That is followed by a glossary, and information about the author and illustrator.
I love the detail about the different cultural and regional Algerian dresses in the illustrations, the Algerian traditions shared through the text, and the connection between the two sisters. The book is available in hard back or paper back and I got mine from Crescent Moon Store